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City moves forward with St. Armands bathrooms

St. Armands Circle stakeholders got the commission’s blessing to advance design work, but questions remain about maintenance costs.

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  • | 4:00 p.m. September 5, 2018
The preliminary designs for the St. Armands Circle bathroom structures rely on a modern style.
The preliminary designs for the St. Armands Circle bathroom structures rely on a modern style.
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As the City Commission once again debated the logistics of building and maintaining restrooms on St. Armands Circle, stakeholders from the commercial district pleaded for the board Tuesday to let the plans advance.

“This is a challenge for all of us,” said Diana Corrigan, executive director of the St. Armands Circle Association. “But we know it’s a much-needed challenge, and it’s something that needs to be done.”

After a period of deliberation, the St. Armands representatives got their wish. In a 4-1 vote, the commission decided to allow the St. Armands Business Improvement District to proceed with the production of designs for a project that would add two restroom facilities to medians along the Circle.

The restroom structures are planned for construction on John Ringling Boulevard and South Boulevard of the Presidents. Each building would house three single-occupancy restrooms, for six in total. The St. Armands BID will pay for the design and construction of the facilities, which is estimated to cost $582,580.

The commission’s decision signaled the board’s support for a concept St. Armands stakeholders have been actively pursuing for more than two years. Merchants and property owners on the Circle have long complained about the lack of public restrooms in the shopping district, stating visitors frequently run into businesses just to use the facilities.

The city is also incorporating restrooms in the St. Armands Circle parking garage, expected to open in December. Representatives for the BID believe more central options are necessary to best serve people shopping and dining in the area.

Although the commission voted to proceed with the design work, it has questions it must answer before the restrooms actually open. In particular, the board wanted to further review its options for maintaining the restroom facilities. The BID asked the city to manage the restrooms once they’re built.

City staff estimated it would cost about $106,000 to maintain the restrooms on an annual basis. That would include a full-time contracted porter working at the facility from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Staff estimated it would cost $168,000 to assign city employees to the maintenance work.

At least two board members questioned the cost and scope of work. Staff said the cost estimate was based on an existing city contract with a maintenance company. Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie said it might be worthwhile to seek additional bids to see if another company might provide the service for a lower price.

She also questioned whether having an on-site maintenance worker from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. would be sufficient. St. Armands representatives said the proposed hours of operation were selected based on the hours of nearby businesses, but Eddie anticipated the restrooms would be a high-volume amenity and demand additional maintenance.

“I think we’re going to have to expand the time because it’s so popular,” Eddie said.

Commissioner Hagen Brody balked at the prospect of having a maintenance worker devoted to two restroom buildings for eight hours a day, seven days a week. He suggested the city should take a comprehensive look at how it manages its restroom facilities to see if a more efficient solution is possible.

City Manager Tom Barwin has previously said residents and visitors express frustration when public restrooms in popular areas are not properly maintained. Commissioner Willie Shaw expressed a similar sentiment Tuesday, arguing focused attention on the restrooms would be necessary.

“We know how important it is to have full coverage, especially when you have the kids and everyone else running out there,” Shaw said.

St. Armands representatives said they wouldn’t plan on beginning construction on the restrooms until May. They asked the city to use that time to figure out how, exactly, it wanted to maintain the restrooms going forward.

The city agreed, giving the BID its blessing to proceed with design work. St. Armands stakeholders were happy to move forward, leaving the remaining decisions about managing the facilities for city officials to settle.

“We’re building the restrooms, and the level or amount they get maintained is really up to the city to do that,” BID Chairman Gavin Meshad said.

This article has been edited to correct the proposed number of bathrooms in each building.


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